Home » Leveling up: How Harrisville’s new esports team is fostering growth and camaraderie among students

Leveling up: How Harrisville’s new esports team is fostering growth and camaraderie among students

Image of 12 students standing in a classroom posing for a photo while standing in front of a screen that says 'HCS Pirates Play the odds. Prove them wrong.'

While many see video gaming as merely a hobby, for students and advisors at Harrisville Central School District, it represents much more.

“It isn’t just playing games,” said Harrisville sophomore Ethan LaVancha, captain of the Harrisville Central School Esports Team, which was established at the start of the 2023-24 school year. The team is officially part of the district’s athletics program.

“It is really good to be recognized as a sports team,” he said. “It is great to have more options at school other than the traditional sports teams.”

Image of three students sitting at computers wearing headsets

This school year, the Harrisville team had the opportunity to scrimmage with other schools, allowing students to play against peers from different regions of the U.S. rather than just among themselves. The decision proved popular, with nearly all 20 available slots on the team filled at the beginning of the school year.

“They had the chance to play against schools from as far away as Wisconsin and California,” said Co-Advisor Heather Bearor. “The kids were pretty pumped about it!”

The success of the program is no accident. Bearor and other Co-Advisor Jean LaVancha worked closely with SUNY Potsdam to ensure a strong start.

“A student from the university came in to explain how to set up our esports program,” said Bearor. “She explained everything from how they set up their program at SUNY Potsdam to the importance of posture while playing.”

Bearor and Jean LaVancha said there is a misconception that esports is not a physical sport.

“While they do have to think cognitively and must be engaged, it is still physical,” said Jean LaVancha. “We even do stretches to make sure we don’t get any injuries.”

One of the reasons the school decided to form an esports program was to reach out to students who wouldn’t normally participate in a traditional high school sport.

“The group of students we have on our esports team is unique,” said Bearor. “Some of the kids on the team were not very social before esports. As the school year went on, we saw those kids becoming more social not only with their teammates, but during the rest of the school day, too.”

In addition to providing another outlet for students, school officials said they noticed a decrease in attendance issues. Several of the students on the team also performed better in the classroom.

“Esports is giving students the opportunity to join another type of team,” said Ethan LaVancha. “They can step outside of their comfort zone and create friendships where they normally wouldn’t create those friendships.”

“If we can make them feel part of a team and included, that’s worth more than anything,” said Bearor.

With the current school year season complete, the focus is already turning to next school year.

“I feel like it would be a bit better if we had more local schools to play against,” said Ethan LaVancha.

One difficulty the Harrisville Esports Program found is that many schools in the region are not quite ready to play against other schools yet. They hope next year looks different.

“We want other school districts in our area to play with us,” said Jean LaVancha. “We’re going to prove this is a real sport. We want to show that what the students are doing is difficult—similar to any other sport.”